Increase Email Revenue by Using Service Journalism

How to sell products while maintaining the honesty and tactical transparency required to preserve a trusting audience

We recently interviewed Jay Schleifer, Managing Editor of HR Daily Advisor, to learn his strategies for increasing email revenue. HR Daily Advisor is owned and operated by Business & Legal Reports and is a Mequoda hub featuring human resource tips, news and advice, updated daily. Each article is published on the HRDA site, plus sent via email to over 135,000 HR professionals.

When BLR first launched their HR hub, they knew they needed someone with a certain skill set to author the content and understand that this was a newsletter intended to sell product. So they pulled Schleifer, the former Director of Marketing at BLR, from retirement to do what he does best: sell products honestly and tactfully.

When asked about the strategy behind writing the content for HR Daily Advisor, Schleifer told us that “the concept we’re talking about is an informational newsletter that sells a product. But the question is: what perception do we want to give the customer? The perception the customer should have is ‘service journalism’.”

What does Jay Schleifer mean by ‘service journalism’?

“When you read a movie review in a newspaper or a product review in Popular Mechanics, you’re reading an advertisement. But the audience doesn’t see it as that; they see it as you doing them a service to help make up their mind on what electronic device they should buy. If you can write it up in a way that makes them feel like you’re doing them a service, they won’t see it as advertising.”

Schleifer explained that the process is always the same; as a writer you are looking for a “key”. The key is how to make a subtle yet effective sale via journalism. No one subscribes to an email newsletter to be sold a product day after day, the same way people don’t sign up their home address for Publisher’s Clearing House. Therefore, you must continuously deliver value while still profiting from your online business and email marketing program.

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When Schleifer first started writing for HRDA, he tried “selling the entire store”. He wasn’t entirely sure what to promote or when and tailored their product promotion around the editorial that was written. However, over time, he was able to tell which products sold the best and then stuck with the winners. “Now we promote what sells,” he told us. He does look for opportunities to sell other products but gives a 4-6 week headway between using a product that they know sells less.

With that said, Schleifer notes, “I’m looking for editorial that will fit with one of my top products. I’ve got a book called the 10-Minute HR Trainer which I know sells well every time I advertise it. I’m looking for training articles because there is almost always a way I can attach an article to that book.”

How Jay Schleifer decides what to write about and promote

For HRDA, the editorial comes before the product. While the content in their promotional/product review emails comes directly from the product itself, their editorial emails are based on a common problem in the industry of which they can then solve by choosing a product from their product line.

Schleifer subscribes to about 50 different newsletters and blogs on every conceivable topic on HR. He also uses Google Alerts to keep him informed of any HR-related news items. He then looks though all the content to find the most common problem, and gives HDRA the role of solving it, keeping in mind to talk about and promote the products that sell best. “I let what the audience cares about dictate what I’m going to write about.”

HRDA publishes their email newsletter about six times a week. “The way we do it at the Daily Advisor is that we establish on Monday and Wednesday an issue the industry is having. Then based on that issue, we come in the following day, Tuesday and Thursday with a solution to that problem. If your problem is an HR issue, like that people don’t listen at meetings, then your solution is to have a much more motivational meeting. We ask our editors if we have anything that would help this, and if they tell us ‘yes we do’, then we offer that product as the solution.”

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On Fridays, HRDA publishes an “E-pinion” which is authored by BLR Founder and CEO, Bob Brady. The goal of this email is primarily community building. “We’re having a lot of fun with that,” Schleifer told us. This email is meant to be interactive and engage their audience. “It’s become a catch-all, but the primary purpose is to create a sense of community”, he notes. Just last Friday they had an invitation for readers to write their own E-pinion column to be published in an upcoming newsletter.

In addition to the E-pinion email, they also send out a “Week in Review”. Neither of these emails are intended to be explicitly promotional but they do feature products in the usual promotional slots. The products promoted in these particular email newsletters are their flagship products, the HR.BLR.com membership website or the Compensation.BLR.com membership website. “These are our flagship products and we need to continuously promote them” Schleifer says.

Jay Schleifer and the work he does in the HRDA email newsletter is a prime example of how to position a product within your editorial content as a service to your readers. After all, you created your products based on a need. There’s no shame in letting your users know all of the hard work you put into helping them succeed.

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